Jalen Wilson’s career with the Jayhawks came to a heartbreaking end on Saturday, but as he walked off the court wearing the crimson and blue for the last time, one thing remains despite the loss: he’s a winner.
Wilson led Kansas with 20-points against the Arkansas Razorbacks, but time and time again, it’s been proven that Wilson alone can never carry the Jayhawks to a victory.
The Jayhawks saw significant struggles in places where they shouldn’t have, with seven missed free throws in a one-point finish and allowing 15 second chance points over the course of a game where they led by as many as 12.
Fans saw similarities against Kansas State, TCU, and Texas–in multiple tough losses for the Jayhawks, there was one constant through all of them: Jalen Wilson giving it his all.
Following a national championship, Kansas lost 70% of its scoring production, including two first-round NBA picks with Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun.
As one of the remaining players from the team that saw glory, Wilson was presented with the opportunity to serve as a veteran if he returned to Kansas. After originally declaring for the draft, Wilson decided to give it one last ride with the place that built him and “reload the wagon”.
Though the Jayhawks came up short in the repeat quest, Wilson further exceeded anything that was asked of him in the veteran leadership role. The Denton, Texas native, averaged 20.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game through 36 starts for Kansas this season, accompanied by 43% shooting with 32% from behind the arc.
Of course, his on the court performance is enough to show how valuable he’s been for the Jayhawks this season, but statistics won’t tell you the off the court love that Wilson has for this program, and the numbers won’t tell you just how much that love is reciprocated.
“Putting on this jersey every day has changed my life for the rest of my life,” Wilson said.
Wilson ends his time at Kansas averaging 14.2 points per game on 43.8% shooting, while finding 32% success from three.
Throughout his veteran run, Wilson was joined by another Big 12 Conference veteran through the transfer of redshirt senior guard Kevin McCullar. McCullar, a San Antonio, Texas native, joined forces with his longtime friend after spending three years at Texas Tech, and has been the glue guy for Kansas all season while rooming with Wilson.
“Probably the cleanest dude I’ve ever been around,” McCullar joked at a press conference on Friday. “I can’t leave anything out without him getting on me.”
The decision to leave a place that McCullar called his home for three years isn’t one that was taken lightly, but a leap of faith to transfer to Kansas and play alongside Wilson has been one that McCullar will be forever thankful for.
“That’s my brother for life,” McCullar said following the loss. “Just grateful I could play my last year with him.”
One of the biggest jobs that comes with being a veteran is being a mentor for the new players. A heavy underclassmen influence on the Jayhawks this season gave Wilson that stage to do so, and freshman guard Gradey Dick fell right into that mix.
“He meant everything. He was our leader,” Dick said following the loss. “Everything he did at this school, he brought a championship back to it… He’s going to get his jersey hung in the rafters.”
Though Wilson’s college career unfortunately couldn’t end with head coach Bill Self as he still recovers from a heart procedure, acting head coach Norm Roberts has been around for the growth of Wilson through the entirety of his college career.
“He’s one of the best winners we’ve ever had here,” Roberts said. “He’s a great ambassador for this school.”
When asked postgame what Wilson wants to be remembered as, his answer was simple: He wants to be remembered as someone who loved being a Jayhawk.
“I will always remember putting on this jersey, and I want to be remembered as a guy that loved this place and did everything to make this place special,” Wilson said.
Given his already impressive resume and team comments, Wilson’s legacy seems to be locked in at the end of his college career. But, as he ends his time at Kansas as the Big 12 Player of the Year, a potential National Player of the Year, and above all else, a national champion, the veteran has secured himself on the long list of players that will eventually have their name in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.
“No matter what the outcome is, you know, I love these guys, I loved this year, and I will remember this forever,” Wilson said.